A Trip to Yola for a Humanitarian Reporting Workshop
By Abdulsalam Mahmud
Yola, I am sure, you that is reading this, knows, it is the capital city of Adamawa. So, what do I have to tell you again about Adamawa State? They are innumerable. It is regarded as “The Land of Hospitality”. “The Land of Beauty” is its other slogan. A former Nigerian Vice President, who is the ‘Wazirin Adamawa’, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, is a proud ‘son of the soil’.
There are several other eminent Nigerians, aside from the ex-Nigerian number two citizen. They equally hail from there. How about that serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, who ‘assaulted’ a woman at a sex toys’ plaza in Abuja? He is also from Adamawa.
Before 2015, some Local Government Areas in the State were declared Caliphates of the extremist Boko Haram sect. In short, Adamawa, in those ‘better-forgotten’ days, was insurgency-ridden. In Adamawa, there is the Modibbo Adama University of Technology (MAUTECH). It was formerly called Federal University of Technology, Yola.
*A maiden trip*
Yet, amid the potpourri of the good, the bad and the ugly of the North East State, I have never traveled there. I could not have even dreamt of going there. At least, not anytime soon. But I found myself there. Recently. Not too long ago. It was for a humanitarian reporting workshop. It was held for two days, between 31st August and 1st September, 2021.
The International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), in collaboration with the Nigerian Society of the Red Cross (NSRC), organized it. But days before the event, I was somewhat ‘restless’—literally. I always look forward to traveling to places I have never been to.
I received the e-ticket booked for the Yola flight, via mail from the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of ICRC, Mr. Aliyu Dawobe. This was as early as Tuesday, August 24. But it only increased my endorphins—the happiness hormones. I love media workshops, seminars and conferences. I may not have participated in many. But I knew what I gained intellectually, and professionally, from the few I attended.
They have helped my journalism career. I knew the ICRC/NSRC workshop will not be anything less. It will be enriching. Therefore, I was passionate. I knew I would learn a lot about reporting conflicts and humanitarian crises—been a Defence correspondent. By 6:45pm on Monday, August 30, I realized it was fated. ‘African time’ will play itself out. I was sure the Boeing 737 plane we will board will not take off on time. The departure time on my ticket was 6:40pm. Here we are. Five minutes. Behind schedule.
*Nearly missing the flight*
The Aero aircraft could have been somewhere. But not within the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Abuja airport precinct. Hence, I quickly dashed to join other Muslim travelers at a ‘corner’ in the departure hall. It was a makeshift mosque.
Was it not a costly decision? No! Prayer transcends every other endeavour of man. But I could have missed my flight. An announcement directing the Yola-bound travelers to start boarding was made. While I was in the mosque. And a few minutes after, most of the co-passengers I was traveling along with, had already boarded. This was by the time I finished observing the evening prayers (Maghrib and Isha’i). Together with some other travelers.
*Encounter with ‘Mai Gida’*
The journey to Yola took an hour and ten minutes. Someone was at the airport to receive this reporter and my colleague—Idowu Isamotu, a Daily Trust reporter. This man was friendly, and gentle to a fault. He was the driver of an ICRC bus. Though I did not know him from Adam, he made me (us) feel at home. Especially after our arrival. Who knows? It may be why I cared less asking about his real name. But I called him ‘Mai Gida’, when he eventually dropped us at the Dantsoho Hotel in Jimeta. Dantsoho was the venue of the two-day workshop.
Mai Gida, I don’t know if he is an indigene of Adamawa. But he ‘educated’ me on Adamawa politics, and its gladiators. He regaled me on what made the immediate-past Governor of the State, Jibrilla Bindow, lose his re-election bid. As an incumbent. In 2019.
He also told me how Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), grabbed the coveted gubernatorial seat. From the jaws of the All Progressives Congress (APC’s). Though, it may be little over a year and some months to the next general election. But Fintiri, it may seem, already has his eyes fixed on returning to office. There is a giant billboard. It had Fintiri and ‘2023’ conspicuously emblazoned on it. Beside the entrance of the Yola International Airport—that tells it all.
I know Rear Admiral Murtala Hammanyaro Nyako (rtd). He is a two-time former Governor of the State. Nyako, popularly called ‘Baba Mai Mangoro’, was the first military administrator of my ‘dear’ State—Niger. That was in 1976. Mai Gida told me that Nyako’s expansive mango plantation is located in Mayo Belwa, another LG in the State. I wish I had the luxury of time. I would have embarked on a pilgrimage there.
*About Adamawa towns*
But it was not all about Adamawa politics and its bigwigs. In the course of the short trip to our hotel from the airport, I learnt many things. About the major towns in the State. About the major ethnic groups in Adamawa.
Mai Gida also told me how ‘far and near’ some popular local government areas such as Mubi, Hong, Lamurde, Michika, Numan and Madagali, are from Yola. According to him, the trip to Mubi town from Yola takes about four hours. He said Madagali used to be a conflict zone. This was due to the activities of Boko Haram fighters. Six to seven years back. But not any longer. It is now peaceful and relatively safe.
*Red Cross in every country*
The International Red and Red Crescent Movement is the largest humanitarian network in the world. Its mission is to alleviate human suffering, protect life and health, and uphold human dignity. Especially during armed conflicts and other emergencies. It is present in every country of the world. It is supported by millions of volunteers.
As facilitators, Zahraa Khaleel Al-Janabi, Lemdi Edmond Okolie and Dawobe ran this writer and other participating-journalists through the history, and principles of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The ICRC officials said: “Humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality: these seven principles sum up movements ethics and are at the core of its approach to helping people in need during armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergencies.”
Among the activities regularly undertaken by the ICRC include supporting the Nigerian health services, putting family members back in touch and reuniting them, promoting detainee welfare, assisting people affected by armed violence, and protecting civilians. Others are improving water supplies, sanitation, hygiene and shelter; promoting international humanitarian law and international law enforcement standards; protection and respect for the dignity of the dead; and working with NRCS.
*Drugs, arms aggravating insecurity*
A Mass Communication scholar, Dr. Abubakar Alhassan, spoke on “Journalists and Conflict Reporting in Nigeria,” and “Humanitarian Journalism/Reporting”. Alhassan, a lecturer at Bayero University, Kano (BUK), insisted that hard drugs and lethal arms have been influencing terrorism and banditry.
Apart from extreme ideologies, he said illicit drugs and the proliferation of lethal arms are motivating criminal elements to perpetrate violent crimes and terrorism, while also fueling other armed conflicts, across the country. According to Dr. Alhassan, most people who engage in perpetrating mass murder either through the activities of banditry and terrorism, are youths who are usually under the influence of drugs.
“If the government can find a way to curtail the proliferation of drugs and ammunition, some irrational and pointless violence, involving mass murder, may totally be curbed or minimized in the society,” he assured.
The Communication Coordinator of ICRC, Robin Waldo, said their organization has learnt, via the workshop, how it is being perceived in the media. He said ICRC needs to work closely with journalists in order to inform the public about their humanitarian activities.
*Back without candies, cookies*
There is this thing I mentioned earlier. It is called ‘African Time’. The Aero aircraft I first boarded to Yola ‘did it’. But that was the last. Perhaps. By 6:40 am—when I arrived at the Yola airport. It was on the ground. Passengers too. But its flight was slated for 7:30 am.
Fast forward. Exactly an hour and ten minutes was what it took me and other passengers. Behold, we all found ourselves at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport.
And I was back in Abuja. Not with packets of cookies or candies. But with beautiful memories. Of a humanitarian reporting workshop. In Yola. A ‘beautiful’ city in ‘The Land of Hospitality’.
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